Saturday 18 November 2017

Commissioner appointing 'personal friends and associates' to key posts, Wallace claims

Noirín O'Sullivan and Mick Wallace
Noirín O'Sullivan and Mick Wallace

GARDA Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has appointed “personal friends and associates” to an internal unit tasked with liaising with the Charleton Tribunal, the Dáil has heard.

Independent TD Mick Wallace used Dáil privilege to raise serious concerns about some of Ms O’Sullivan’s recent appointments.

Garda Commissioner Noírín O’Sullivan. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Garda Commissioner Noírín O’Sullivan. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

He asked Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe whether he believes it was “appropriate” for former Commissioner Martin Callinan to have been in Garda Headquarters on several days last week. He said both Ms O’Sullivan and Mr Callinan will have “full access to the apparatus” of An Garda Síochána, a privilege that “will not be extended to (garda whistleblowers Sergeant Maurice McCabe and Supt Dave Taylor.

And Mr Wallace said the force’s director of Human Resources John Barrett wrote to the Head of Legal Affairs Ken Ruane after a number of retired officers were appointed to the unit.

“John Barrett wrote a letter to the head of legal affairs Ken Ruane. And he pointed out the corporate risk to An Garda Síochána in setting up this unit staffed by personal friends and associates. He suggested a firm of outside solicitors should brought in to act as a conduit between An Garda Síochána and the Charleton inquiry.”

The Wexford deputy cited retired Assistant Commissioner Mick O’Sullivan and retired Chief Superintendent Brendan Mangan as those drafted in by Ms O’Sullivan to liaise with Judge Charleton. Mr Wallace said the unit also includes Chief Supt Tony Howard, adding that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has been “written to” in relation to concerns about his appointment to the unit.

The appointments and the consternation they caused within the force was revealed by Independent.ie earlier this month.

The unit itself is involved in dealing with officers who are due to give evidence at the tribunal, which will investigate whether garda management was involved in a smear campaign against sgt Maurice McCabe.

Mr Wallace also rounded on the Commissioner and said he believed the Government will eventually ask her to step aside.

He told the Dáil: “There is mayhem, the force is in bits, it’s failing down by the rears and the only one who is supporting her is you, your government. When is this going to change?”

He described Ms O’Sullivan as a “law unto herself”.

Mr Donohoe refused to be drawn on the specific claims made.

Mick Wallace
Mick Wallace

In response to the breath test scandal,  the minister said the Government has committed to a series of actions.

He said the Government has made “very clear” that what is now needed is a “thorough and overall review” of the culture in An Garda Síochána.

While admitting he is disturbed by the revelations, Mr Donohoe said the Government is fully behind the Commissioner.

“We support the Commissioner, we support her in her efforts to deal with the issues that are being described," Mr Donohoe told the Dáil.

The latest Garda scandal explained: How we got here, and what next for the embattled Commissioner?

The latest revelations about the scandals within An Garda Síochana have led to Fianna Fáil declaring they have no confidence in the embattled Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan.

Ms O'Sullivan comes before an Oireachtas Justice Committee tomorrow and ministers believe that Cabinet's support for her could end if she fails to allay concerns.

It has also emerged that the Policing Authority gave the Commissioner a deadline of Friday to provide it with all documentation on the fixed-charge notice and breath-test scandal.

How did we get here?

An Garda Síochána has been dogged by a series of scandals over the last number of months.

Last year Ms O'Sullivan was forced to deny claims she instructed her legal team to discredit Garda Sergeant maurice McCabe at the O'Higgins Commission which was set up to investigate allegations of misconduct in the Cavan-Monaghan district.

And earlier this year that controversy erupted again when it was claimed by former garda Press Officer David Taylor that he was instructed by the Commissioner to engage in a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

Recently questions have been raised after Ms O'Sullivan appointed some of her closest allies, who had retired from the force, to the internal unit tasked with liaising with the tribunal into the Garda Whistleblower scandal chaired by Mr Justice Peter Charleton.

What is the latest scandal all about?

Last Thursday at a garda press conference it was announced that 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences after they weren't given the opportunity to pay a Fixed Charge Notice.

Gardaí also confirmed that almost one million phantom breath tests were recorded on the Garda Pulse system. Official figures claimed that 1,995,369 tests were carried out but only 1,061,381 took place.

A large bill for compensating people who were wrongly brought to court is likely to be footed by the taxpayer.

How did the Commissioner respond?

On Monday Ms O'Sullivan staged a press conference in Garda headquarters where Noirin O'Sullivan she apologised and promised "real cultural reform". She warned that it won't be easy and will take time.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One news, Ms O'Sullivan later said: "I have a huge commitment to the programme of reform that I have committed to undertake. It is working and it will continue. Not everyone is going to like it and we are going to have some serious push back but it takes determination, it takes commitment and courage to make sure it happens."

The Commissioner said she wouldn't step down, even if there was a vote of no confidence in her in the Dáil

How did the politicians respond?

Fianna Fáil declared officially yesterday that they could not express confidence in the Commissioner.

Other opposition TDs were predictably livid and demanded Ms O'Sullivan be sacked.

However Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has strongly defended the Commissioner. She has been backed up by the Taoiseach.

In the Dáil last night, Ms Fitzgerald said Ms O'Sullivan is the best person to lead the force.

However, Ms Fitzgerald says she was unaware of the scale of the latest crisis in the Gardaí until last week.

But at the cabinet meeting a major stand-off took place with Ministers asking "What's next?"

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and several other Fine Gael ministers warned the latest controversies were sapping public confidence in the force.

Ministers directly challenged Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald on the controversies, demanding to know: "What's next?"

At one point at the "emotional" meeting, Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor raised the prospect of a "straw poll" of ministers to determine the level of confidence in Ms O'Sullivan.

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys also voiced serious concern about the garda scandal. No such poll was held, but a Cabinet source said: "The level of anger and hostility towards the gardaí was palpable."

So what is next?

Ms O'Sullivan appears before the Oireachtas Justice committee appearance tomorrow and ministers believe that support for her could end if she fails to deliver.

The Fennelly Commission into the taping of phone calls at garda stations is also due and this could spark further headaches for the Commissioner.

And if that wasn't enough, An Garda Síochána is due to publish a report detailing financial irregularities at the Garda College over a number of years.

The Garda's Internal Audit Section examined financial transactions over a number of years at Templemore.

Its report, forwarded to the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner, discovered financial irregularities and evidence that money was being spent on gifts and entertainment.

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